Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned his post and handed the authority for running the country's affairs to the military, bowing to 18 days of pressure by pro-democracy demonstrators who refused to accept anything less than an end to his three decades of authoritarian rule.
Jubilation erupted across the country at the news that Mubarak had left office, with thousands of Egyptians in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities pouring into the streets to celebrate, dance, chant "Goodbye! Goodbye!" and wave Egyptian flags.
Fireworks were shot into the sky and car horns were sounded as people celebrated the fall of the regime they say has kept the country poor and oppressed for 30 years.
Radio Free Afghanistan's Abdul Raouf Harawi described the scene in Cairo: "Everybody went out to the streets in happiness to welcome this historic moment. People came out in their cars onto the street making lots of noise. They congratulated each other and distributed different kinds of sweets to each other. At the same time, political figures and teachers and intellectuals and people from all backgrounds were all welcoming this moment."
In the capital, where huge crowds marched on parliament and the presidential palace -- the site of Mubarak's final, unsuccessful attempt to regain control of the country on February 10 -- the biggest celebration was in Tahrir Square, which has been epicenter of nearly three weeks of antigovernment protests.
At a Cairo metro station, someone used spray paint to cross out the “Mubarak” stop on the map and change it to “The Martyrs.” The graffiti artist then posted the picture on Twitter.
Military Assumes Power
The announcement that the 82-year-old president was stepping down and handing control to the army came in a brief statement by Vice President Omar Suleiman on state TV at 6 p.m. local time.
"My fellow citizens. In this difficult time that the country is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to relieve himself of his position as president. He has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to take control of the state's affairs. May God protect us," Suleiman said.
Almost instantly, tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in Cairo erupted in a frenzy of celebration, dancing, and waving Egyptian flags and chanting, "The people have brought down the regime!" People hugged and cried, and shouted, "Egypt is free!"
Hours earlier, Mubarak and his family left Cairo, arriving just before sundown in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has a resort home.
The country is now ruled by the Armed Forces Supreme Council, which is the military's top body consisting of top generals and headed by Defense Minister Muhammad Hossein Tantawi.
An unidentified military spokesman appeared on state TV and promised that the army would not act as a substitute for a government based on the "legitimacy of the people." He said the military was preparing the next steps needed "to achieve the ambitions of our great nation" and would announce them soon.
Ibrahim Karawan, the former director of the Middle East Program at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL he doesn’t think Mubarak will remain in Egypt.
"Mubarak himself doesn't pose a danger to the [new government], but I believe that he and his family will go abroad because he cannot stay in Sharm el-Sheikh,” Karawan said. “Sharm el-Sheikh itself is not immune to the rebellion and upheaval."
In the end, it took just 18 days to bring down a 30-year-old regime, but the anger that drove Egyptians into the street had been building for years.
What began as a youth movement on January 25 quickly grew into a popular, leaderless uprising that expanded as the days went by to include Egyptians of all ages, social classes, and religious persuasions -- Muslims and Christian, old and young, professionals and laborers stood shoulder to shoulder.
The demonstrators remained defiant despite orchestrated attacks from pro-regime thugs that led to an estimated 300 deaths and detentions and beatings by the security services. Throughout, they never dropped their demand that Mubarak step down and a new democratically elected government take his place.
Just as Egyptian youth took their inspiration from Tunisia, where citizens brought down the regime of President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali last month, the Egyptian revolution has rocked the Arab world and triggered similar uprisings in Jordan and Yemen, and inspired calls for protests in Syria, Algeria, and Morocco.
In a reflection of the type of nervousness some Arab leaders are feeling, Bahrain's king announced that he will give 1,000 dinars ($2,650) to each Bahraini family. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, a Sunni, is reportedly the target of protests planned next week by the majority Shi’ite population. Activists have called for protests on February 14, the 10th anniversary of Bahrain's Constitution.
The man who set up the Facebook page that first called Egypt’s youth to action, and who then was detained by security police for most of the uprising, said today he was proud to be an Egyptian.
Democracy activist Wael Ghonim, who is Google’s marketing manager for the Middle East and North Africa, told CNN by phone, “"I am proud to be Egyptian. I just want to say from the bottom of my heart: 'Congratulations to all Egyptians!' And I want to say 'Welcome, Egypt!'"
Obama: 'History Taking Place'
Throughout the upheaval, Mubarak seemed not to understand that he had become the symbol of the protests -- saying on February 10 "this isn't about me." In his last appearance as president, he defied all expectations that he would resign and instead offered more incremental reforms and reaffirmed his pledge not to seek reelection.
Mubarak, a former air force commander, came to power after the 1981 assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, by Islamic radicals. Throughout his rule, he showed a near obsession with stability, using rigged elections and a hated police force accused of widespread torture to ensure his control.
In Washington, President Barack Obama made a statement to reporters after meeting with his national security advisers to discuss the latest developments.
“There are very few moments in our lives when we have the privilege of witnessing history taking place. This is one of those moments, this is one of those times. The people of Egypt have spoken, their voices have been heard, and Egypt will never be the same,” Obama said.
He said that by stepping down, Mubarak had responded to his people’s "hunger for change" and vowed that the United States would “continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt.” He said, “We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary, and asked for, to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.”
Obama praised the Egyptian military for “acting responsibly as a caretaker to the state” and called on it to ensure that people’s rights are protected, the emergency law is lifted, and a clear path to free and fair elections is laid out.
“I’m sure there will be difficult days ahead and many questions remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers and do so peacefully and constructively, and in the spirit of unity that has defined these last few weeks,” he said.
Reaction from other world leaders has poured in. India said it welcomed Mubarak's resignation "in deference to the wishes of the people of Egypt" and "the commitment by military leaders to establish an open and democratic framework of governance."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also welcomed Mubarak's decision to resign and said his decision to hand power to senior military commanders was a "historic change."
British Prime Minister David Cameron praised Egyptians and citizens of other Arab nations for speaking "so bravely and so peacefully for change in their country."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered Egypt the world body’s assistance, saying, “I commend the people of Egypt for the peaceful and courageous and orderly manner in which they have exercised their legitimate rights. I call on all parties to continue in the same spirit. The United Nations stands ready to assist in the process."
Ahmet Davotoglu, Turkish minister of foreign affairs, tweeted: “Congratulations to the Egyptian people. And we hope that a system meeting the expectations of the Egyptian people will emerge.”
Iran, which is celebrating the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, said Egyptians have achieved a "great victory." Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam television, "The conquest by the will of the great Egyptian nation over the resistance and persistence of officials who were dependent on the world powers is a great victory,"
Palestinians in Gaza shot off fireworks. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, "The resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is the beginning of the victory of the Egyptian revolution."
Israel, which considered Mubarak a strong security ally, said it hoped his resignation won't change its peaceful relations with Cairo. A senior Israeli official told Reuters, "We hope that the change to democracy in Egypt will happen without violence and that the peace accord will remain."
The day’s dramatic events were cause for celebration among demonstrators but for some, not reason enough to go home. Many said they planned to remain in Cairo’s Tahrir Square until the military’s next steps become clear.
Abdel-Rahman Samir, one of the Cairo organizers, said the movement would now open negotiations with the military over democratic reforms but vowed protests would continue to ensure change is carried out.
"We still don't have any guarantees yet,” he said. “If we end the whole situation now it's like we haven't done anything. So we need to keep sitting in Tahrir until we get all our demands."
Abdul-Rahman Ayyash, who described himself as an online activist and was born eight years after Mubarak came to office, said he would be celebrating all night, and then remain in the square to ensure the military "won't steal the revolution."
"I'm 21 years old," he said. "This is the first time in my life I feel free."
written by Heather Maher, with contributions from Richard Solash and agency reports
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